Despite the Saudi kingdom’s decision to lift one of the restrictions on cultural life, human rights activists are calling on world music stars not to “do business with the murderous regime” of the Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has urged stars, including the Black Eyed Peas, Enrique Iglesias and other artists, to cancel their scheduled performances at the Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix, which will take place in Saudi Arabia.
The event which HRF called “the latest in a series of major PR events” is a part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” plan, which aims to improve the kingdom’s reputation on the world stage and diversify its economy away from oil.
To justify its objections, the group said in a press statement that Crown Prince Salman “ordered the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, presided over the torture of Saudi women’s rights activists and led a brutal military offensive in Yemen, killing thousands of civilians and resulting in one of the world’s most devastating humanitarian crises.”
Once praised for leading the so-called modernisation efforts in the ultra-conservative country, Crown Prince bin Salman’s reputation has crumbled over the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Turkish officials and a CIA investigation concluded that the crown prince ordered the assassination of Khashoggi despite repeated denials from the Saudi authorities.
The crown prince was guarded by dozens of guards and quickly taken to the Saudi Embassy last week when he arrived in Buenos Aires for the G20 summit hours after an Argentinian judge accepted the request to prosecute him for alleged crimes against humanity.
“It is outrageous that these artists — who are admired and idolized by millions of people — have agreed to do business with the murderous regime of MBS,” said HRF chairman Garry Kasparov.
“The hypocrisy of these musicians who have previously called upon their fans to stand up for social justice and human rights will destroy their credibility and reputation,” said Kasparov.
The Black Eyed Peas, one of the most successful music groups of all time, is well-known for supporting human rights campaigns. The group actively participated in Amnesty International’s “Make Some Noise” campaign to mobilise collective action against human rights violations around the world. Also in its album release in 2006, the group referred to its cover of John Lennon’s “Power to the People” song as “the ultimate anthem” and urged their fans to “use collective power to make the change.”
“The old tradition is on the brink,” said Sebastian Sons, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
“Diversification of the economy is strongly needed and Vision 2030 is the strategy for that.”
For long, oil revenues have been the main source of income for the kingdom. However, the oil-dependent business model has come under strain due to a growing population and a global decrease in oil prices.
As a part of his strategy, MBS aims to create a vibrant private sector and expand new industries like alternative energy, tourism and entertainment.
Due to the long-standing prohibition on cultural and social activities in the country where nearly two-thirds of the population is under 30, millions of Saudis prefer to travel abroad to find entertainment outside of the kingdom.
"At the moment, many Saudis head to the likes of Dubai, where there are a lot of entertainment complexes and more things to do," Jason Tuvey, an economist at London-based Capital Economics, told Arab News.
The Saudis spend more than $5 billion annually on overseas leisure travel and Saudi officials would prefer them to spend that money domestically. Hence, the kingdom has launched a new entertainment enterprise with an initial capitalisation of $2.67 billion.
Apart from the Formula E auto racing series, a multi-day music festival has also been organised to attract thousands of Saudis. Enrique Iglesias along with The Black Eyed Peas, Jason Derulo, OneRepublic, David Guetta and Amr Diab will share the stage. And the kingdom will try to prove that Saudi Arabia is changing.